Sun, sea but no sex, please, on Boracay
Raissa Robles in Manila
Being caught having sex on the beach in Boracay is not the only thing that could land you in hot water.
So could a tryst on a boat or in a diving shop, disco or even a hotel room, under laws proposed to curb 'indecent acts' on the Philippines' most renowned party island.
Malay town council is considering an ordinance after a television crew filmed two naked couples being intimate in public on New Year's Day.
Another clip showed a bare-breasted woman embracing her male partner on a rock formation that had been turned into a Catholic grotto with a Virgin Mary statue.
The incident has sent ripples through the devoutly Catholic country, although sex is openly available at many nightclubs, bars and resorts.
Councillor Jonathan Cabrera filed the proposal last week to ban 'indecent acts' on 'the beach, shores, in vegetation, roads, forests, rivers, caves, public buildings, public utility vehicles, sea craft and other places where intercourse would be seen by the public'.
More than half a million foreign and local tourists a year flock to the island. Europeans and Chinese, including Hongkongers, top the list.
The proposed law also seeks to ban sex 'in cottages, disco houses, restaurants, hotels, hostels, boarding houses, stores, fun houses, bars, diving shops, karaoke bars, KTV bars and other entertainment centres'.
Violators could be jailed for up to 30 days and fined up to 2,500 pesos (HK$439). Establishments where such incidents occur could lose their business licences.
However, Councillor Rowen Aguirre, who chairs the council's ordinance committee, cautioned fellow lawmakers about the impact of such a law on tourism, calling it an 'unnecessary exercise', saying national laws were already in place.
Article 200 of the Philippine Penal Code makes 'grave scandal' a crime punishable with a short jail term and public censure. It is committed by 'any person who shall offend against decency and good customs by any highly scandalous act'.
A senior police officer stationed on Boracay said the 50-member police force had never arrested any couple they caught in an indecent act or sunbathing nude.
'When we see them, we just warn them that it's not allowed, tell them to stop and cover themselves up,' he said.
He also said 'only foreigners do it', and police only record an incident when a complainant, usually a Filipino, calls it in.
An Australian owner of a Boracay resort said part of the island's allure was tourists regarded it like a paradise 'where anything goes'. He noted that even businessmen he saw in Manila behaving with proper decorum 'went wild' there.
Boracay began gaining popularity 30 years ago as a backpack destination for German and Italian tourists, who sometimes sunbathed nude.
Pat Varga, a resident of 20 years, said public nudity was never accepted by the island's conservative Catholic residents, who often complained to the police.
'Many are watching. The Church is watching,' she said.
Department of Tourism official Domingo Enerio III urged the local council to enact an ordinance expressly barring 'certain activities' on Boracay and to put up public signs to remind tourists. Enerio said the recent case was an 'isolated' one that does not mar the image of Boracay as a family-friendly destination.